Saturday, October 01, 2005

Apple vs. RIAA (or, How Jobs Could Learn to Stop Worrying and Love the Music)

Not that I'm saying Jobs is worrying, mind you. The word on the street, though, is that the RIAA (specifically, Warner CEO Edgar Bronfman) is trying to hold a proverbial gun to Apple's head, threatening to pull their music out of the iTunes Music Store if Jobs doesn't agree to their ridiculous pricing scheme and cut them in on a share of Apple's iPod profits. Obviously, this is ridiculous, and no one in their right mind would stand for it. Exxon doesn't get a share of Ford's Explorer profits, and if anyone suggested Exxon should, they'd be laughed out of town. So why does Mr. Bronfman think he's got a valid point? Who knows. We're talking here about a group of money-thirsty vampires who feel justified in repeatedly suing their own customers (including, of course, 13 year old girls). Anyway... that's not my point.

What I'm thinking is... would it really be that bad if the RIAA
did pull out of iTMS?

I mean, seriously... Most of what you find on iTMS is crap (it
is a music store serving up RIAA tripe, after all... the fact that it has no meatspace incarnation is irrelevant to the quality of the fare being offered). Looking at the top ten downloaded songs on there now, I can see Nickelback (can do without), Kanye West (crap), Black Eyed Peas (I'll pass, thanks), Green Day (okay... I'll give 'em that), Fall Out Boy (blerg), Gorillaz (I'm still on the fence here... I'll give it to 'em for now), Kelly Clarkson (Jesus Christ, people, she won a damned contest 3 years ago... her fifteen minutes are up), Goo Goo Dolls (they're still alive?), Ashlee Simpson (no video means you can't tell she's lip-synching!), and 50 Cent & Mobb Deep (*shudder*). Losing this sort of trash (sorry Green Day and Gorillaz... but you're hanging out with the wrong crowd) can really only help, as far as I'm concerned. Clear out the RIAA bands, and focus on something new and fresh. Something you've never heard before.

Focus on bands like the Decemberists, or Iron & Wine. The Postal Service, Fruit Bats, Neko Case (not to mention the New Pornographers), Damien Rice, Astaire, and Los Straitjackets all deserve more attention than they get with the RIAA overshadowing their various independent labels. Bloc Party should be in that top ten, as should Andrew Bird. Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying "indie == great by virtue of being indie." These are all bands/singers who are great in their own right and just happen to be independent. Now, whether their independence has led to a level of freedom that allows them to sound different and find their greatness or not is beyond the scope of this discussion. The point is, these bands need to be heard, and with the RIAA out of the picture on iTMS, that gives Apple a perfect opportunity to tout them and others like them.

Apple themselves have always been something of an underdog, so I think they can relate in a situation like this. The way I see it, Apple should tell the RIAA to just piss right the hell off, thankyouverymuch, don'tletthedoorhityourassonthewayout. Then they need to hop in bed with the indie labels and start making new stars. People are used to buying music through iTMS now. If Apple starts holding bands up, people will be interested. Plus, with the RIAA's money-leeches out of the picture, Apple might even consider lowering the prices... I'm sure they could drop the price per track a bit and still make more money for themselves and the artist without the RIAA siphoning off the lion's share of each purchase. "But what," you say, "about <insert your favorite RIAA artist here>? I can't live another day without their new album on my iPod!"

Well, Skippy... you've got a few options, don'tcha. You could buy the CD in meatspace, and rip it. Oops! It's copy protected? Well, the RIAA has to make sure you're not exercising your second option (download it for free via the P2P app du jour) and too bad if a few legitimate paying customers get screwed in the process. Looks like you're going to have to settle for option three. Do without. Or are you? We hear all the time about how the artists get screwed in their contracts with the RIAA, so why do they stick with it? My money is on the mistaken belief that they have no alternative.

Apple is in a position to become an alternative. They can get the current RIAA artists to jump ship. They can be the benevolent RIAA. They can rally the independent labels and hone them into a mainstream-dreck destroying juggernaut. The RIAA can get your band radio play? Apple can get them featured on the front page of iTMS and give away their new (soon-to-be-hit) single as a free download ("Like what you hear? Have the entire album in seconds! Let's see regular old radio give that sort of satisfaction.") that you can play whenever you want... not just when the DJ decides you get to hear it.

It could happen, folks. It may have to.